The Long Island University Blackbirds walked into the locker room before practice Monday morning to find a quote from the biblical story of David and Goliath on coach Jim Ferry's board.
In the pre-practice huddle, Ferry explained his choice of words.
"David can beat Goliath by being tougher, smarter and better prepared," Ferry said. "That’s what it's going to take."
Less than 24 hours earlier, the Blackbirds were grumbling because the Selection Committee branded them with a No. 15 seed and sent them to Charlotte to face second-seeded North Carolina.
But on Monday, there was no time to complain; it was time get ready for the Tar Heels.
"We stopped talking about it and started focusing on the things that we can control," Ferry said.
LIU faces long odds tonight in Charlotte against the Tar Heels. A No. 15 seed has beaten a No. 2 just four times since the Big Dance expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
But the Blackbirds are riding an NCAA-high 13-game winning streak. So if you think the boys from Brooklyn lack confidence, you can fuhgedaboutit.
"It is what it is," senior guard C.J. Garner said. "We just have to go out and play."
Long Island also leads the nation in road wins at 13. So Ferry's crew looks at its first-round game as another road challenge, albeit one on a different scale than LIU's last road win at NEC foe Mount Saint Mary’s.
"We have to have great poise and we have to have great composure," Ferry said. "When we're in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday night and North Carolina comes running out with that big Tar Heel blue flag, 20,000 people are going to erupt.”
Both LIU and UNC rebound the ball well. North Carolina leads the nation at 42.5 boards per game and the Blackbirds are third (41.8). Both teams can light up the scoreboard: LIU is fourth in the country with an 82.6 per game average, and UNC is 19th with a 76.7 average.
Ferry spent the past five days studying tape of Roy Williams & Co. The LIU coach offered a brief synopsis earlier this week: The Tar Heels are good.
"I learned why they're the No. 2 seed," Ferry said. "They don't have many weaknesses. Their guards are strong and they like to get up and down. So do we, but they play at a whole other speed."
Ferry and leading scorer Julian Boydbelieve the Blackbirds may have an edge over Carolina at both forward positions. Boyd and fellow forward Jamal Olasewere are capable of knocking down perimeter shots and beating a defender off of the dribble.
"I don't think they can really keep up with us," said Boyd, who missed all of last season with a heart ailment and returned to be the team's co-leading scorer, along with Olasewere (12.9 ppg).
The Blackbirds are 0-3 all-time in the NCAA tournament. They're back for the first time since 1997. They felt slighted by the 15 seed. All three factors should provide enough motivation for tonight's game. If not, Ferry’s "David vs. Goliath" message on Monday certainly struck a nerve.
"That pretty much sums up what we are and what the games going to be like," Garner said. "They're North Carolina, we're LIU. They don't know who we are and we want to show them."